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EU energy ministers faced criticism on Monday (28 February) over a decision to ease up on tougher EU energy efficiency targets, even as turmoil in Libya kept oil prices hovering around the $100-a-barrel mark.

Speaking at a hearing in the European Parliament on the same day, EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard added to pressure saying an EU pledge to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent over the next decade lacked sufficient ambition.

Instead a 25 percent cut, based on 1990 levels, was needed if the EU was to meet a longer-term 2050 goal in a cost-effective manner, said the Danish politician, pre-empting the main message of the commission’s ‘2050 roadmap’ to be published next week.

A draft of the text, seen by this website, suggests the extra five percent in emissions savings can be achieved if EU member states simply comply with a non-binding EU pledge to boost energy efficiency by 20 percent over the next decade.

But EU energy ministers showed little taste for tougher rules in this area on Monday, despite a series of reports showing member states are behind schedule.

“The setting of any additional targets is not justified at present,” said the meeting’s final conclusions. “The implementation of the EU energy efficiency target will be reviewed by 2013 and further measures considered if necessary.”

Green MEPs slammed the decision not to push harder right away. “Energy ministers clearly have their heads in the sand as regards the looming oil crisis,” said the group’s energy spokesman Claude Turmes.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Brook Riley was equally critical. “National figures already make it clear that the EU will not meet the 2020 energy efficiency target. This waiting game is condemning Europeans to pay higher energy bills.”

EU national governments have been reluctant to accept binding EU energy efficiency targets however until a common methodology to measure gains in efficiency is agreed.

Over lunch ministers discussed the rising oil prices in recent days due to fighting in Libya, adopting a list of sanctions against the the country’s autocratic leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who has ruled the north African state for over 40 years.

Oil and gas exports were left off the list however, a decision supported by EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

“There is reason to believe most of the oil and gas fields are no longer under Gaddafi’s control,” Mr Oettinger told journalists. “Instead we have provisional (regional) leaders who have taken control … We would be punishing the wrong people.”

Amid strong lobbying from international energy firms ahead of next week’s publication by the commission, EU energy ministers also made reference to the importance of tapping EU supplies of shale gas.

A recent report, drawn up by consultants McKinsey at the behest of a coalition of gas producers including Gazprom, Centrica and Qatar Petroleum, said Europe’s largely undeveloped shale gas resources could meet the continent’s needs for 30 years based on current demand.

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